Louis Pasteur (1822-1895) in 1886.
Thanks to a subscription opened in the New York Herald, four little Americans contaminated by rabies, belonging to working families, are able to come to Paris to be vaccinated. People are coming from everywhere to be saved from the incurable ill. By 1st March 1886, three hundred and fifty people have received the treatment. Only one could not be saved: Louise Pelletier. Pasteur is then able to unveil his great project:
“My intention is to found in Paris a model establishment, without having any recourse to the State, with the help of international donations and subscriptions.”
In light of the results, the Academie des sciences names a Commission which unanimously adopts the project that an establishment for the treatment of rabies after being bitten be created in Paris, under the name of Institut Pasteur.
At this epoch, the 1870 War is still weighing heavily on the minds of all Peoples, despite the sixteen years that have passed. There is great attention being given to this relentless fight which is being pursued against all illnesses. A subscription is opened in France and other countries to finance the Institute. The funds are to be received by the Banque de France, the Credit Foncier, the Tresoriers Payeurs Generaux and the Tax Collectors. A Milan newspaper, La Perseveranza, which has opened a subscription, collects 6,000 francs. Alsace, the homeland of the little Meister, mobilises, even though eleven months have gone by since the child’s recovery. Alsace-Lorraine would bring in 43,000 francs. The movement accelerates, money arrives from everywhere.
Meanwhile, nineteen Russians from the Smolensk province arrive in Paris. The only French word that they know is “Pasteur”. Attacked by a rabid wolf, most of them display horrible wounds. A pope, surprised by the furious animal while on his way to church, had his upper lip and his right cheek ripped off, his face is only a gaping wound. Five of these unfortunate people are in such a serious state that they have to be transported to the Hotel-Dieu. Pasteur decides that he needs to do a double innoculation for them, for it is known that after certain bites of rabid wolves, all of the wounded had died. The other Russians would remain in the laboratory of the Ecole normale. These poor people are therefore to be seen, dressed in their tourloupe, on their way to their vaccination, their hands and heads covered in compresses, passing silently amongst the very diverse group of those bitten: an English family, a Basque with his beret on his head, a French peasant woman, an Hungarian in his national costume. People come from everywhere to be saved, for rabies means certain death after a terrible agony…
Alas, three of the Russians succumb; the trip from Russia had been too long, the ill had had the time to install itself. The return of the sixteen survivors is greeted in Russia with a quasi religious fervour and Tsar Alexander takes part in the foundation of the Pasteur Institute by giving 100.000 francs.
Pasteur’s renown grows even more. The queue of patients lengthens:
“People in rags bitten near streams where they were trying to get a bone with meat still on it from a bulldog, elegant women with hair the colour of henna, that their King Charles Spaniel had scratched, elderly women wearing glasses, whose terrier had fought with a suspicious molossus, a lugubrious cortege that was comical in its implacable variety”,
reports Leo Claretie, from the magazine Coins de Paris. Meanwhile, the money from the subscriptions is flowing in, the Official Journal does not stop publishing lists of generous donors for the creation of the Institute, where the names of the greatest fortunes mingle with a student’s savings, a working man’s salary. Pasteur, ageing, his health declining, would say, during a Conference before the Societe philanthropique, in June 1866:
“It must be recognized that our century will have been, more than all the other centuries, concerned with the humble, those suffering and the very young. Pursued by the fixed idea of helping them, three great things were needed: we had to combat illness, poverty and ignorance.”
In May, a festival is organized in the Trocadero Palace in honour of Pasteur, subscriptions are still arriving.
On 14 November 1888, the Pasteur Institute is inaugurated in presence of President Sadi Carnot, who climbs the steps on the scholar’s arm. There are Ministers there, representatives of the Diplomatic Corps, Members of the Academie de medecine and of the Institute. Pasteur is tired. His tongue is paralyzed, his speech hesitant. Jean-Baptiste Pasteur has to read his father’s inaugural speech. This speech is full of contained emotion, the elderly fighter is at the sunset of his life:
“Alas, I have the poignant melancholy of entering it [the Institute] as a man vanquished by time, who no longer has around him any of his Masters, nor even any of his companions from the fight. If I have the pain of saying to myself: they are no more, at least I have the consolation of thinking that all that we have defended together will not perish. The collaborators and the disciples who are here share our scientific faith.”
The Institute is a great dispensary for the treatment of rabies, a study centre for virulent and contagious illnesses, and a teaching centre. The course on microbia technique, directed by Emile Roux, lasts five weeks. One pupil comments:
“Professor Roux was an outstanding Professor, endowed with an eloquence which did not seek its effect in words but captivated by the sobriety of the expression of the terms.”
The course unfolds directly inside the laboratory amongst the work instruments. It takes place in the afternoon, so as to permit the Medical Doctors to continue to assume their charges. The programme contains the knowledge of bacteria, the techniques of bacteriology, the experimentation on animals, the notions of virulence and of immunity, the practice of vaccinations. The auditors come from all of the countries of the world, and all stages of the medical career are represented, from the young Intern right up to the Faculty Professor and the Head of Hospital Services. The course in biological chemistry is taught by Duclaux; the vaccination service, the principal axis of the work, is entrusted to Chamberland. He has become specialized in the applications of his Master’s principles in everyday life, perfecting the “Chamberland Filter”, a column of porous porcelain which is fixed on the end of taps, and filters the germs and microbes contained in the water, efficiently avoiding the transmission of illnesses through piped water. He also invents the autoclave, an hermetically sealed apparatus permitting the sterilization by heating of the laboratory instruments. Finally, a newcomer, the Russian Metchnikoff, who studies white globules and their properties in the defence of organisms, is responsible for the Pasteurians’ personal laboratories. Metchnikoff, “a zoologist who wandered into Medicine”, as he will call himself, is going to discover the deep mechanisms of the organism’s immunity to microbes.
To be continued.